Blanca Lake Hike
Sunday September 3rd 2006
Our hiking guide book rates this trail as Most Difficult. Believe them. You will get your heart rate up. It is 7.8 miles roundtrip, with 3300 feet of elevation gain. It also leads to spectacular sights. Glaciers? Wow! Melanie said it reminded her of our visit to Banff/Jasper. What a beautiful sight Blanca Lake is. This is well worth the strenous hike. I took lots of photos, but of course it is better seen in person. This may be my favorite hike in the Seattle area so far. I didn't expect something so nice - scenery this good, I would expect it to be designated a National Park or something. If you are in condition to make this hike, go for it. Bring a lot of water - when we were returning, we passed a number of people heading up, and their water bottles already nearly dry. It is a lot easier to make it to Blanca Lake if you bring a lot of water, and a fine picnic lunch.
We got an early start because we knew it was going to be a warm day, so we wanted to get up the mountain before the heat of the day. The trailhead is way back in the mountains, you have to drive 17 miles on a narrow two lane forest road once you exit Route 2, the last couple of miles are on gravel. There were only a couple of cars there when we arrived before 9 AM, but by the time we left, Melanie estimated there were 40 cars parked there. Despite the remoteness, people know about this great hike, so our early start paid off with almost a solitary experience.
The start of the hike is in dense trees that really shade the trail. There are stumps near the start of the trail, so you can see how far in the logger got - which is not too far. Once the mountain gets too steep, I guess the area is inaccessible to logging equipment. And the mountain gets steep quickly. And it stays steep, all the way up to the top. The trail is an endless series of switchbacks winding up and up the side of the mountain. Fortunately, the trail is in shade all the way, so we didn't get too hot.
We thought we had reached the 2.9 mile mark, because we could see a distant peak through a gap in the trees. Do not be fooled - that is not the view of Glacier Peak described by the book. Keep climbing! Eventually you will reach indeed see Glacier Peak - visible on the right side of the trail. You will also catch your first glimpse of Columbia Glacier here. Wow! A glacier!
The hike through the saddle is really nice and easy, a welcome respite from the challenging climb. We walked through some meadows which had probably been lakes themselves in the relatively recent past. A nice descent down to small Virgin Lake. We saw a tent in this area, it is a nice camping area.
The descent down to Blanca Lake is hard. The trail drops quite sharply, and it is full of roots and boulders that you have to step over. Fortunately, the weather was dry, so rather than treacherous and extremely steep, the our descent was merely extremely steep. We actually found it easier to climb this portion on our return.
Eventually, Blanca Lake comes into view, and it is a stunning thing to see, it makes the hike worthwhile. The lake color is greenish blue due to the "glacial flour" suspended in the water from the melt. It is a huge lake. On our way out, we passed a couple of guys hauling inflatable kayaks up the mountain. I didn't envy their task, but once they got to the lake I am sure they had a wonderful time exploring the lake. We had our lunch in the shade.
The guide book describes a 2000 foot drop for the outflow of Blanca Lake, but if there is a giant waterfall, we were unable to find a way to see it. We only went a short way around the shore, but apparently you can get to the far side, because we spotted some puny dots on the distant shore - and the dots moved, so they must have been people. There are some nice campsites, but of course you have to haul your camping equipment all the way up the mountain.
Our whole visit took about 5 hours. I recommend this hike.
I tried to capture the entire lake in a series of photos, assembled into one continuous panorama with the Canon software tools.
Click on any thumbnail to open photo in new window.
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